I am German by birth. I was born into a society which had, less than 10 years previously, been caught up in the actions of the Third Reich — a society that was still trying to find a way of defining itself without reference to the evil of recent years.
When I was seven years old my family moved abroad, and I ended up in an English school. Here I discovered the understanding of history from the other side, but also the sense that what had happened under Hitler in Germany was unique, and indeed uniquely German.
Perhaps you have heard of ‘Godwin’s Law’ — the assumption that in every debate sooner or later someone will mention Hitler, and that when they do they will be deemed to have lost the debate. This is based on the belief that the Third Reich was unique to its people and its time, and that while we need to learn lessons from it they probably apply to someone else, never to us.
The real lesson of the Third Reich is different. Nazi Germany was not planted in some exclusively evil soil. Germany was the land of Bach and Beethoven, of Schiller and Goethe, of the 1848 outpouring of democratic desire. That Hitler could thrive there was not evidence of the uniquely evil potential of Germany, but the evil potential of every and any society, given the right (or wrong) circumstances.
As we contemplate where, all across the world, we are going right now, it is vital to remember that lesson.